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Race the trains for a run around Loch Ossian, Corrour

Written by Fiona

March 28 2022

Can you run a circuit of Loch Ossian on the remote Corrour Estate between the trains? The article was published in The Scots Magazine. If you enjoyed reading this article, why not buy a Scots Magazine, or a subscription?

Wilderness challenge: Loch Ossian run

The day dawned promisingly as my friend Vicky and I travelled by train through Central Scotland to the Highlands.

Eating a picnic breakfast on the first – and very early – train of the day from Glasgow, we watched as urban environs turned to fabulous rural landscapes, with vast moorlands spreading out towards mountains.

A slowly rising sun spread a rosey glow on the frosty scenery.

As if by appointment, a herd of red deer ran into our window-shaped view. Simultaneously, we stretched our necks to look back over our shoulders at the unexpected wildlife highlight as the West Highland Line service sped northwards.

Today’s adventure had been a spontaneous decision made only 48 hours before – and clearly we had the blessing of the weather gods.

Now, as most people would be arriving at their place of work, Vicky and I alighted the train at the request stop station of Corrour. 

The signpost from Corrour station.

More than 15 miles by rough track from the nearest public tarmac road, Corrour is a remote estate on the edge of Rannoch Moor

The easiest way to reach the area is on the Glasgow to Fort William railway line although there are only four daily trains heading north and three or four, depending on the season, heading south. 

For some people, an exciting – perhaps trepidatious – challenge is to arrive and depart on the same day and, in between, complete a wilderness adventure.

Walkers might, for example, bag one or two of Scotland’s tallest mountains, a Munro or Corbett.

Meanwhile, I’d heard about a running feat to complete a circuit of Loch Ossian, at the heart of the estate, in between trains. Arriving at 8:58am, Vicky and I hoped to make the next train heading south at 12.30pm. 

In the intervening hours, we aimed to reach the western shore of the loch, around 1.5 miles east of Corrour station, then run a seven to eight-mile loch loop on tracks and trails, before heading back to the station.

On paper, the idea seemed easily possible, but as we set off on a wide track snaking through a rugged moorland, we discussed some nerves.

What if we got lost? What if our rucksacks of warm kit, snacks and water slowed us down? What if the train home was cancelled?

But this was all part of the challenge – the unknowns and aspirations – of taking a train from the city into the wilderness for a day of adventuring.

Loch Ossian Youth Hostel.

Fact: Corrour is the highest mainline railway station in the UK at 1338ft.

As we ran on and over the brow of a small hill, we saw a pool of water shining brightly amid a picture-postcard vista of brown, yellow and green moors. The backdrop was of mountains still capped with snow.

On the shore of the loch, a small, green building – Hostelling Scotland’s Loch Ossian Youth Hostel – offered a focus to run towards. 

Outside the hostel, which was closed on an off-season week-day, Vicky and I found a place to stash a few items that we wouldn’t need for the run.

We stopped for a pre-run snack and enjoyed a full-length view of the loch. So still was the air and water and so vibrant the clarity of colours, it appeared we were looking into a photograph.

With lighter running packs, we set off at a faster pace to run an anti-clockwise circuit of Loch Ossian. 

Our legs felt fresh and we jumped icy puddles and dodged sections of mud on a Land Rover track that stayed close to the water’s edge. Most of the loch’s shore is tree-lined and we were soon running through woodland. 

Flashes of light from the glassy loch surface flashed through narrow gaps in the tall, straight trunks of birch and we exclaimed at the surprisingly rich array of colours. 

Towards the eastern end of Loch Ossian, over-grown rhododendrons narrowed the track before we came across a collection of older and more modern buildings.

The history of the Corrour Estate is fascinating and dates to an original lodge built in the early 19th century. 

Sir John Stirling Maxwell, whose was instrumental in establishing the Forestry Commission, purchased Corrour in 1891 after the arrival of the railway. He was also honorary president of the Scottish Youth Hostels Association and a founder member of the National Trust for Scotland. His name is remembered at a nearby memorial.

The old lodge burned down in 1942, after which a new owner, Lisbet Rausing, the heiress of Swedish packaging firm Tetra Pak, had a granite, steel and glass lodge built. Sounding incongruous in such a setting, Vicky and I were keen to take a look at the house as we passed, but it was mostly hidden from view.

In contrast, as we continued around the furthest tip of the narrow loch, we were treated to a wide-open panorama of the mountains of Sgòr Choinnich, Sgòr Gaibhre and Càrn Dearg. 

At a junction, we kept left, now running south and into denser patches of mostly evergreen forestry. Our new perspective revealed a dramatic reflection of darkened hues of land and trees in the loch’s mirror.

The northern shore of Loch Ossian was hillier and it felt suddenly tougher, especially as we faced a chill headwind coming through the glen.

Vicky and I after our around Loch Ossian run.

Perhaps it was the early start that day, the anticipation of the unknown, the sudden cold  or the need for lunch that made the final two miles of the circuit a harder task.

Finally returning to the hostel, we were grateful for a bench located in luke-warm early spring sunshine. However, just as we congratulating ourselves on having “more than enough time” between trains, hostel manager Jan came out of her personal quarters to inform us the next train had in fact been cancelled.

“It happens fairly often at this time of year,” she added breezily, as an explanation.

“But…,” we started. Vicky and I had evening plans and arrangements back home. 

We also felt cheated. We had been so pleased that we were about to achieve the “between trains” challenge.

Jan told us the next train wasn’t until 6.25pm, due in Glasgow three hours later.

There was nothing we could do, except hope this train wasn’t cancelled, too. 

Loch Ossian.

We were warm and dry – Jan kindly lit the stove in the hostel – and we had a flask of coffee and lunch leftovers. We managed to get text messages through to the people affected by our unplanned situation – and then we spent a very pleasant afternoon chatting, laughing, getting to know Jan and playing board games.

The extra hours also provided the opportunity for more spectacular views of the loch in a setting sun.

As the train time approached, we set off in the deep dark to walk back to the station, lighting our way with head torches. 

I guess we can still say we made the Loch Ossian run challenge between trains, except we had enjoyed so much more than expected.

Kit list for Loch Ossian run

Winter running clothes, including running tights, baselayers, waterproof jacket, headwear and gloves, trail running footwear.

In running pack:

  • Insulated jacket 
  • Waterproof trousers
  • Spare gloves
  • Post-run change of baselayers 
  • Post-run extra jacket for warmth
  • Head torch
  • Emergency foil blanket or bivvy bag
  • Map and compass
  • Mobile phone
  • Food and water.

Travel: See winter and summer train timetables for the West Highland Line between Glasgow and Mallaig at www.scotrail.co.uk.

Why not stay?: Surprisingly, given its remote location, Corrour is home to a range of self-catering options and a restaurant (summer opening times). There is also a wonderful hostel.

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